304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Six albums into a recording career that has seen him rightly feted by many a broadcaster and journalist, the undervalued Mark Harrison, has decided to treat us again, this time with a double album called The Road To Liberty.
This UK bluesman has a knack of writing brand new traditional folk edged blues and, as he says, “The music is rooted in the blues, but it’s not stuck in the past. I’m tapping into the timeless quality of the early blues to produce music totally relevant to the present day. I’m trying to do something fresh and different. I’m picking the guitar, using the strong rhythms and feel of the originators, and putting hopefully memorable tunes on top.” That to me is the definition of a modern blues artist; one that many aspire to, but few achieve. The evidence is favourable for Mark and listening to his previous work before immersing myself in the twenty-one new tracks, on albums such as the brilliantly named live recording, On The Chicken Sandwich Train, he certainly adheres to his mission statement. Mark favours his 1934 National Trojan Resonator (unusually, this was a wooden-bodied model with the familiar metal ‘cone’ to make it louder than standard acoustics) and a twelve-string to translate his blues-folk, laced with humour and (where appropriate, gravitas) throughout the all original set.
I will only pick my personal highlights out of the new ones, otherwise, this review would rival War and Peace!
The choice of Part One’s opening track is nothing to do with the current situation:
Tribulation Time with its military snare and solid bass back the lighthearted melody that Mark picks brilliantly and combines gentle slide with picking in the solo, fitting the surreal and clever lyrics. Everybody Knows is the perfect example of his signature picking and bottleneck skills…think Son House and Mississippi John Hurt duetting and you’re nearly there.
Toolmaker’s Blues is folkish and sums up his ethos as he sings about factory closures and hardships: it also has a sparkling slide solo that weaves the melody around the deft bottleneck. Now, when I saw the two titles, Last Bus Home and Wheels Going Round, a children’s song sprung to mind…rest easy, the first is a washboard backed slice of country blues with folk elements but a delightful twelve-string instrumental whilst the second is a slower, delightfully picked melody around a story of mental deliberations.
Skip’s Song is my favourite on the first disc: a more bluesy outing that, although the same title as a Moby Grape Song (Skip Spence was a founder member), is all new. It does have a remarkably similar feel to Free’s Mr Big..not a criticism, this is a canny little song with a lovely slide solo.
Closing the first disc is a sombre sounding title; I’m Damned. It materialises as a bouncy almost jolly song with some telling lyrics in the country-styled tale…even the guitar solo sounds a little fiddle like.
The second disc opens in a similarly upbeat note with All Rise as Mark is up in front of the judge in other country bounce with some great picking song. Followed by Hard Life and Doin’ Time There seems to be a loose theme: all different but with more signature guitar work that is amazing…be it mediaeval, country, folk or blues, he has an enviable skill.
Don’t Let The Crazy Out The Bag (Too Soon) finds Mark channelling his internal Mick Jagger on a familiar but well-reworked structure. Restless Mind is my favourite on the second disc: the resonator gets a great workout in a complex and layered song that has lots to offer.
The closing track, By The Side Of The Road, we get some solid blues that, at times, seems a little un-syncopated; but that’s its charm and shows how detailed Mark is in all he does…as always the lyrics are rather clever and the guitar is an absolute treat.
I will now beg the forgiveness of Charles and Ben: I may not have mentioned them very often but their contribution of superb bass and intricate drum and percussion adds a massive amount to the songs and gives them all a definitive base for Mark to build on.
So, if your blues predilection leans toward the folk troubadour side, you will adore this record. Even ageing rockers like me will find lots to enjoy with his skilful guitar playing and any one of the tracks will be most welcome when my iPod (yes, I still have two Classics) shuffles them into aural view.
Bluesdoodles rating: 3 Doodle Paws – a great listen for anyone who likes impeccably played resonator and twelve-string mixed with superb lyrical craft.
Club of Lost Souls
Last Bus Home
Wheels Going Round
Curl Your Toes
Don’t Let The Crazy Out The Bag (Too Soon)
By The Side of the Road
All songs by Mark Harrison
Recorded at Station Studios, Stroud and produced by Charles Benfield.
Mark Harrison: guitars, vocals
Charles Benfield: upright bass
Ben Welburn: drums and percussion
Release dates: physical double album June 30th, Part 1 digital June 30th, Part 2 digital September 30th
(iTunes moved on to a curiosity from 1987: Mark O’Connor’s Stone From Which The Arch Was Made was bought as part of my “every track he ever did’ Steve Morse collection as he guests on this violinist and composer’s bluegrass, jazz, folk album (as does Chet Atkins): it’s different but has lots to offer.)